Discover more from Notes From the Margin with Wendy Pratt
Never regret anything, because at one time it was exactly what you wanted.
The mantras keeping me going through the writing of a memoir, plus bookclub news and five substacks I recommend following
Mantra one: Never regret anything, because at one time it was exactly what you wanted.
I don’t know where I found this little clip of advice, which has become a mantra for me, repeated in my head at times of stress, but I remember reading it and having an immediate sense of peace unfolding within me; a sense of forgiveness of myself and the decisions I had made in the past that had led nowhere. The truth is, no decision leads nowhere. Everything that I have seen and done, the good stuff, the terrible stuff, led me to this point. This is not the same as ‘everything happens for a reason’ which is trite shite (side note, never, ever say this to someone who has lost a loved one - especially a baby - it is a terrible thing to say. ) but rather that everything you do in your life has the potential for growth. This I can get onboard with. At one time, for example, I was dead set on getting a PhD. I had scraped myself up off the floor in so many ways to complete BA, MA (distance learning both) and now I wanted that glorious cherry on the top of my academic journey. When I was asked why, it was because I wanted the satisfaction of being the first in my family to doctorate level. Because I wanted the sense of accomplishment. Reader, I recklessly accepted a PhD, part time, place, and thought I could do both PhD and grow a self employed business in which I was earning minimum wage. I was a dog walker, also trying to build a writing career. This was, in hindsight, a crazy, crazy thing to do. I did it for a couple of years, but was working so much to cover my fees that I couldn’t find time to do the PhD work. There were other contributing factors, that I won’t go into, but I ended up burning out, becoming really depressed, giving it up. I felt like the world’s biggest failure. After a year or so I applied for a fully funded place at a different university, one with a stipend that would mean my lost work time would be covered. I knew I couldn’t do a PhD without full funding, I just don’t earn enough. I got within a whisker of getting it, but after spending six months working with a potential supervisor, getting my ducks in a row…all the work.. I did not get the place. I applied once more, for another fully funded place, but didn’t get that either. All the time I was applying for that last PhD I had a stone in my gut that said it wasn’t right for me. But I’d been so stuck on that course for so long, I didn’t feel I could face the embarrassment of stepping off it. It took courage to do that. And I did, I stepped off and decided to put the same energy into my writing career as I had into trying to get the PhD place/s. Do I regret years of paying fees and burning myself out for absolutely nothing? Nope. Well, honestly, a bit. I still feel a tinge of embarrassment. But the book that would have been the thesis for the scholarship PhDs, or a version of it, written in a way I enjoy without the academic voice, without the constraints and the hoop jumping of the PhD process, is now under contract with The Borough Press, and nearly complete. This process, especially the failure, shaped how I saw myself, and also forced me to look at what I really wanted, which was not to work in academia, not to lecture in a university, but to write, to have the freedom to write and explore, on my own terms. The academic route is not for everyone. It is for some people and I think in poetry there is little in the way of other options to make a living, but it’s not for everyone. It is not for me. Not right now, anyway.
Mantra Two: You are on your own journey. Other people are on their own journey. We are all just trying to get to where we want to be.
I’m on the last leg of finishing the book. It’s been a journey in itself, a real eye opener. Writing a book, especially with a deadline, feels like pulling a rabbit out of a hat every day and not quite knowing how you are doing the trick, and yet you repeat this act, every day. In order to write the book I’ve had to strip everything back around me. Less intensive social media, putting the Spelt Writing School on hold, no mentoring, less online course running. I have been regimented with my writing time, not allowing anything to encroach on it. It is working. After a crisis of confidence in which I realised I was juggling instead of prioritising, I am now on firm ground, writing, and writing well. Every time I open twitter (my favoured medium) or facebook, even instagram, I see other writers doing brilliantly, or starting new projects or worse - telling the world that their dreams have not come true, that their author story did not have the ending they thought it would. All of these things get in my head. I worry about whether I should be doing more - paid projects, submissions, reaching out, landing commissions, and I worry about the tiny flame of potential that this book is. The mantra above is one I saw Josie George post on twitter. I was surprised that she, who seems so calm and self aware, would feel any of the feelings I had - feelings of being left behind, left out, of choosing the wrong path. When I hold this mantra in my head it has a calming effect, the whirlpool stops swirling my thoughts to their watery doom, I become a millpond, focused on what I want, focused on getting this book finished. This one is very much saving me right now.
The Quote of the Week:
“The things you think are the disasters in your life are not disasters really. Almost anything can be turned around: out of every ditch, a path, if you can only see it” Hilary Mantel.
Every week when I set my planner up, I try to find myself a motivational quote to look at; something to keep me going when I feel panicked and anxious, which always happens at some point during the week. I turn to HM quite often. This one, especially so because, while I’m writing I am weaving the story of myself, my land ancestors, the voices of people who are long gone, into the work. I want to know that the path is there, that I am finding the path for them, as much as for me. The bad things that happened to us, the bad things we did, the disasters that befell us, there was a path in there. I looked for it, and I found it.
Book Club News
The book club book for June is Helen Mort’s brilliant novel Black Car Burning. I’ll have more details for you in my next post.
Five Substack Newsletters I Recommend
A mix for you this week:
One: Tanya Shadrick’s online writing community - The Cure for Sleep
Two: The SneakyArt post - such joy in the little drawings gifted to strangers
Three: Beyond Butter Chicken - for the foodies, this is so warm and wonderful
Four: Tom Cox - who always manages to write interesting, witty posts
Five: The Hot Desk - advice about living - how we work, rest and play
Until next time